Sunday, November 8, 2009

intercultural conflict

Could this be an example of intercultural conflict? Inspired by true events…

Setting: Departmental store located somewhere in town.

Event: The store was having a one-day offer for a branded electrical appliance

The incident took place in a series of events that run like this:

The store sales promoter is conducting a demonstration on how to use the appliance. The store has a system; only those who have proof of purchase will be allowed to view the demonstration.

Everything seems like it was going well: the sales promoter looked presentable, confident, all prepared to start conducting the demonstration. When he started, he used his mother tongue to explain how to work the machine. What is wrong with this picture? Well, the crowd consisted of a fair proportion of people who clearly do not speak his tongue, even though majority of them could. (This is a common sight, since in town, a lot of people who come to the store are made up of foreigners who are Caucasian)  A few of them were patient in tolerating the sales promoter, thinking that he will switch to a different mode of language to cater to those who do not understand him earlier. As he continued, however, I could see many people showing signs of impatience and uneasiness (this obvious when you can see them folding their arms in front of them, whispering to their friends, or shaking their heads in unison as a sign of disapproval).

From what I can tell, one of the customers in the crowd passed a comment about how insensitive the sales promoter was; since he did not consider the other customers. And this comment was heard and picked up by one of the cashiers, who, was standing nearby. He went up to the sales promoter and told him to conduct the demonstration in English instead, since there were other people there who did not understand him, but still wanted to be informed.  He took up the request and continued his demonstration in English.

Since the departmental store was located in town, it is common to see a mixture of races and nationalities in the customers who purchase things at the store. The fact that the sales promoter did not use English during his presentation may have given a wrong impression. He could pass of as being unethical, and his service was therefore seen as poor. In my point of view, he was being culturally insensitive and his actions were inexcusable. Firstly, he should have been aware that he was working in an environment where there were many foreigners and locals who do not speak his tongue. Secondly, it was clear that he could speak English well, so it is inexcusable to suggest that he could not converse well in English and thus had to resort to using his own mother tongue. There was no language barrier to begin with, he should have adopted the use of English from the start, that is more appropriate, ethical and professional.

His insensitivity and negligence could have offended many people who came to view his demonstration that day. They felt discriminated against and even though this sales promoter could be the best in the business, this misunderstanding could have tarnished his reputation. What is worse, he could have given the impression that the company he works for did not give him adequate training in this field. Representing the department store, the customers could very well reason the poor quality of service that he portrayed.

Could this be viewed as an intercultural conflict? Was it in the way he communicated his ideas? What about body language? What could have been better about this picture?

1 comment:

  1. I think that it is alright for the sales person to communicate to his customers in his mother tongue. One must also realise that there might be chinese nationals out there who do not understand english. Therefore I believe it is necessary for the salesperson to do his sales speech in both english and chinese. The salesperson should package his sales speech accordingly depending on the customer crowd. To me the idea of intercultural insensitivity do not really apply here. It's more of how we should package our sales speech when doing sales with different groups of people.